A Call for More Mental Health Training

The Missouri Department of Public Safety is deploying training courses around the state on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) for all first responders. These sessions, according to this report, will ‘focus on coping with stress and the psychological trauma that comes from responding to critical incidents’. Missouri is offering two programs. The CISM training is three days, and includes individual and group crisis intervention. A two-day peer support training is also offered.  

I applaud Missouri DPS for this initiative and challenge all states to offer similar programming for public safety professionals – but in higher volume and with a broader range. Overall, we are wildly ignoring the prevalence of mental health related trauma and injuries we see across public safety. I’m glad Missouri is offering a range of courses, in shorter format and longer courses. These can all be non-clinical, intended to help responders help themselves and support their colleagues. There may also be a need to further broaden this, depending on what needs to be accomplished and trained, perhaps courses in duration of one, two, and three days.

We also need regular frequency of delivery. These courses need to be part of the regular catalog of training offered by emergency management offices, perhaps in cooperation with state mental health agencies or other related partners. Oftentimes, programs such as what is being offered by Missouri DPS are one-offs (I’m not sure what Missouri’s plans are long-term for this), which doesn’t even scratch the surface of public safety professionals that will benefit now or in the future from such training. States offer incident command system (ICS) training at varying levels, often on heavy rotation. There is no reason to not offer courses like this on a regular rotation as well.

If we are truly dedicated to supporting the mental health of our public safety professionals, we need to make this kind of training and the resources that can come with it a regularity. Mental health injury can build over a career and/or come from a single event or series of events. They can lead to anxiety and depression, burnout, and suicide. Public safety professionals dedicate their lives to supporting our communities. We need to dedicate resources to supporting them. The more we talk about it, the more normalized it will become and the less stigmatized it will become. Talking about a bad knee or rotator cuff is commonplace, and discussion on mental health should be the same. Similarly, I’d like to see more requirements and standards in this matter. State and federal labor and occupational health and safety agencies should be including more mental health requirements just as they do for physical health and safety. Standards setting organizations, such as the NFPA and membership-driven organizations that we see in all facets of public safety should be advocating more heavily for this.

Keep this conversation going. What best practices in mental health matters are you seeing in public safety?

© 2022 Tim Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

2 thoughts on “A Call for More Mental Health Training

  1. Jason Hetherington, Behavioral Health Emergency Planner - Washington State Department of Health says:

    Hi Tim, Great read and I appreciate the work Missouri Department of Public Safety has undertaken. I am Behavioral Health Emergency Planner, an unusual mix of emergency management and behavioral health service and support, at Washington State Department of Health. We have been busy offering up training courses that build workplace resilience and provide government, first responder, and public education officials tools and products, like a suite of Behavioral Health situation reports, to manage the mental health related impacts of COVID-19. We are still formalizing (forming, storming, norming) our plans and protocols, but we’re not a funded and permanent program in Public Health yet. I might reach out to Missouri Public Safety and share best practices. Again, great read and super relevant points. Thanks for your blog and experiences.

    1. Hi Jason. Sounds like you have a great program going! There is certainly no single solution and COVID has definitely brought to light some of the mental health concerns we’ve had, especially in non-traditional responders. Of course things tend not to become priorities until grants identify them as such, so it’s really HHS, FEMA, DOJ, NFA, etc. we should be pushing. Thanks for reading!

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